10 September 2021

Ten pics

 A Small Step (up the hill of beans....)

I have been taking photographs since the days  when William Henry Fox Talbot was a lad - or so it seems.  Perhaps I exaggerate, un petit peu?  My first camera, a Kodak Brownie 44a, was a smart little thing, and I still have a number of the snaps I took with it, some in perfect condition, and that was some 60 years ago.....

Then through the years I slowly crept up the ladder - my first 35mm being a Boots Beirette, then I acquired an SLR, a Russian  Zenith, with a brilliant lens.  After that, for some reason, I went for a Russian rangefinder camera, a Zorki 4, before going back to single lens reflex with two Pentax MXs (one for black and white and one for Kodachrome) and a series of lenses, until the digital age. 

I am, I suppose, pretty much entirely self-taught, which is to say I have read (some of) the manuals, viewed exhibitions, read books (by such as Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag and John Berger) and learnt by practice. I have done a small amount of professional work, with pictures published in various papers, magazines and books, and I have had, in Italy, two exhibitions. Nearly all my pictures, however, would be classed as amateur, though perhaps I now rank, as Canon will have it, as an enthusiast

Anyway, after all these years of snapping away, I began to wonder about some kind of qualification, or mark of recognition. I can't really explain why, but I joined the Royal Photographic Society to see how I could develop my skills, and realised that they have three grades of Distinction - Licentiate, Associate and Fellowship. To quote the RPS, to become a Licentiate of The Society, applicants must show variety in approach and techniques but not necessarily in subject matter. Demanding but achievable for most dedicated photographers.

So there we have an aim.  Something to achieve.  As a friend of mine says, it ain't worth a hill of beans, but, as I soon learned, standards are high and it (certainly) ain't a piece of cake.....  In fact, I failed twice to gain the distinction.  So I thought I would try once more.....

These ten pictures are the ones I recently submitted for a panel to assess.  I did have some help, and I am particularly grateful to Michael O'Sullivan who gave me advice and spent time with me in two 1-2-1 discussions.  And so, here we are....

The first picture in my panel is of Amanda on the beach at Holme-next-the-sea in February this year.  She has a winning mischievous look, but the scars on her nose tell a tale of disorientation and pain.  We moved to Norfolk in January and she was completely lost. We resorted to medication to keep her calm, but unfortunately this contributed to a fall in the bathroom and damage to her face.  And this, I think, gives the portrait some depth, with her trusting eyes and cheeky grin contrasting with the discoloured skin and scabbed nose.





To balance this intimate portrait I placed this picture of my friend Antonio next.  This was taken on our last, pre-pandemic, trip to Italy, in Antonio's house in Genazzano,  near Rome.  We have been friends since I first went to Italy in 1976, and we keep in regular contact. Antonio's father came through Italy in WW2, crossing paths with my dad, though in the Army not the Air Force.  He also picked up a sweetheart on the way, from the South, again not unlike my dad, except he married his girl and brought her back to England after the war, where they raised their two children. After graduating in Modern Foreign Languages from Reading University Antonio moved to Italy where his parents had taken up residence outside of Rome. There he befriended Gino, with whom he founded The Fiddler's Elbow in Rome, an Irish pub which is still to be found near Santa Maria Maggiore.

To cut the story short, Antonio spent the latter half of his working life as a seriously undervalued employee of the British Embassy in Rome, but he has now retired and lives quietly with his partner, Giuseppina, in a gothic apartment in the old part of Genazzano.  A brilliant linguist and highly literate man, he remains a great friend and I hope this photograph does him some justice.






My third picture was taken in late spring on a walk near our new home.  The countryside abounds with hares here and in the spring they are easy to spot charging about in the fields.  This one, however, was having a rest when we came through a gate on a footpath and instead of rushing away, he paused a while and let me take a few pictures with my new Canon mirrorless camera, before he decided to lollop off relatively calmly.  They are beautiful animals, and I thought this shot nicely caught that almost effortless acceleration they are capable of when the time demands, along with his wary eye and wonderful whiskers....





As a centrepiece to my panel, I chose this picture from the Musée Oldmasters Museum, which is part of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, in Brussels.  I like the perspective, the eye-catching red walls, and the figure of the guide/guard wandering into the distance.  I love visiting art galleries, especially when they are quiet.  I like to wonder about the people framed there, and their lives, and to imagine entering into different times, different worlds.  I was once a guide in rooms in a castle in Scotland which had two enormous Canaletto paintings on the wall.  Every day I could float down the Grand Canal on a gondola before turning to look out the window at the gardens of Versailles....






Then another natural history picture taken with my Canon with its superb 500mm lens.  This kestrel posed obligingly, if somewhat haughtily, for me on a tree in the Chilterns, and by chance I was uphill and so at almost the same height as the bird, which makes it a slightly unusual viewpoint.  Having worked as a residential volunteer for the RSPB at a number of their reserves, I have tried many times to take good shots of birds, but all too often they see me coming and are off before I can raise my lens, but this fellow wanted to stare me out, and so I got him full face....






The pandemic closed us all down, and for two years I have been fidgeting about wanting desperately to be on the move again.  This picture reminds me of the diversity and fun of travelling; it was taken in the Grote Markt, in Antwerp, and the gentleman was demonstrating to me how one should drink jenever, which is usually poured to the rim of the glass, so you don't pick the glass up, but bend towards it and sip.  One of my judges said he had no idea what this chap was doing (when the pictures are appraised there is no information allowed about where they were taken or anything), but now you know!






I lived in Italy for twenty years, in and near Rome, and I am still awestruck by the city. This is a view from the terrace bar of the Mecenate Palace Hotel, where we have stayed on recent visits.  Yes, there is quite a bit of dark sky in the picture, but that Roman sky is so velvety.....






Anther great European city is Vienna, and this view of the steep roof of Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral) seemed to work well with my overall panel, the diagonals linking with the surrounding pictures and the colours providing a nice contrast with the art gallery above.  I also find the window fascinating - who lives in there I wonder, and why is it placed exactly there, its own triangles at odds with the geometry of the tiles?







Another night shot - this time from a low level.  The Polite Police in the Grand Place of Brussels keeping an eye on the tourists.  This is a glittering square, full of lights and glorious architecture, but the presence of armed police is a reminder that perhaps nowhere is entirely safe these days.....






And finally another portrait.  This is Martin, who helps at the bakers attached to Redbournbury Mill on the River Ver near St Albans.  He kindly let me take his picture a couple of times and hope he won't mind this exposure now?  I miss our Saturday walks to the mill from our home in Harpenden, and the superb multiseed bread we used to buy, and Martin was always friendly and interesting to talk to.  His head is a work of art in its own right; I hope he is well and that his beard will never grow shorter!





So, that's it.  Not a race nor a competition; but a selection of pictures offered up for considered judgement against a set of criteria, which are:

Camera work and Technical Quality 
Visual Awareness
Communication 
Overall Impression

full details of which can be found by following this link: LRPS Guidelines 






I think that as with so many things there is bound to be some subjectivity in any judgement, but having been through the process three times now, and having learned how some pictures can be 'improved' in certain ways, and how some pictures, or indeed an overall impression, may not sufficiently meet the criteria, I have to confess to feeling a sense of achievement and satisfaction that my submission has been recognised as being of a certain standard. No, my pictures won't suddenly fill the pages of National Geographic, nor feature on the cover of Vogue; I am not (yet) a member of Magnum; and yes, there's a long long way to go before I can be compared to Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier-Bresson et alios, but, hey, it's a step.....







And the next step will be to aim for the Associate Distinction, (which requires a body of work/project of a high standard and a written Statement of Intent. Strong technical ability using techniques and photographic practices appropriate to the subject).....

We'll see.......